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Michael A Becker

On 5 October 2016, the International Court of Justice upheld preliminary objections to its jurisdiction in three separate cases relating to nuclear disarmament brought by the Republic of the Marshall Islands. India, Pakistan, and the United Kingdom – the three respondent States – argued that the absence of a dispute with the Marshall Islands when the cases were filed meant that the Court lacked jurisdiction to consider the claims. In each case, a narrow majority of the Court agreed. These judgments brought to a halt the legal actions mounted by the tiny Marshall Islands against three nuclear powers. They also consolidated a trend in the Court's approach to the determination of whether a dispute exists for the purpose of the exercise of jurisdiction. In addition, the judgments sparked debate over whether individual judges cast their votes in line with the preferences of their home governments or sought to protect the interests of powerful States. This article provides an overview of the proceedings and the parties’ claims (Part 2). It then analyses the Court's reasoning with respect to whether a dispute was present (Part 3) and explains how the Court's approach to the ‘dispute requirement’, a means to protect the judicial function, has taken a wrong turn (Part 4). The article next challenges the proposition that the voting record in the Nuclear Disarmament judgments should be interpreted to support the proposition that judges vote in accordance with national interest (Part 5) before offering some concluding thoughts on the wisdom of the decision by the Marshall Islands to bring these cases, which invoked claims that may not have been amenable to judicial solutions (Part 6).